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Illegal MMDA quake drills; De Lima’s dilemma; Ochoa’s improper attire

Chairman Francis Tolentino of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority is already immersed in his campaign for a seat in the Senate in the May 2016 polls, under the administration Liberal Party.

So far, his strategy is simple.

Tolentino will make the most of his incumbency and the public funds that go with it to promote his image to the electorate until October 2015—when Tolentino must resign from the MMDA to launch his official campaign. This way, Tolentino can save on expenses by financing his partisan political campaign using government funds and property.

His quest for higher office was evident as early as December 2014 when he required all cinema houses in the metropolis to exhibit a film clip about himself before every film screening during the Metropolitan Manila Film Festival.  That was free publicity for him.  

Earlier this year, government seismology experts announced that many areas in Metropolitan Manila and in Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite are likely to be hit by a devastating earthquake anytime soon. Naturally, people there were overwhelmed by fear and anxiety.

Tolentino saw an opportunity in the people’s fear and anxiety. His office offered to hold earthquake drills. Last July 30, the MMDA held earthquake drills in the metropolis, and Tolentino was featured extensively in the news media. That was free publicity for him once again.            

On   September 8, the MMDA intends to hold earthquake drills in Bulacan and Laguna where Tolentino will again be in the public eye. These provincial drills, however, are illegal. The MMDA was created by law for the benefit of Metropolitan Manila. There is nothing in the MMDA charter, Republic Act No. 7924, which allows it to operate outside the metropolis.  

Moreover, under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code, a public officer who uses public funds or property under his administration to any public use other than that for which such fund or property were appropriated by law, invites a criminal prosecution. His act also gives rise to both a prosecution under the anti-graft law, and an administrative case before the Office of the Ombudsman.               

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the MMDA cannot perform any act not authorized under its charter. Weeks ago, the Court of Appeals held that the MMDA cannot enforce anti-smoking ordinances even within Metropolitan Manila. Although the MMDA charter authorizes the chairman to carry out directives of the President of the Philippines, those directives must be confined to matters relating to Metropolitan Manila. In simple language, the President cannot order an official of Metropolitan Manila to perform functions in the provinces. To allow that is to allow the President to amend the MMDA charter. Only Congress is vested by the Constitution with that power.     

Tolentino should be attending to the traffic problem in the metropolis instead of using government time, funds, and property for his political campaign. So far, he is unaware that motorcycles traversing EDSA and Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City no longer use the designated motorcycle lane.

It’s time Tolentino stopped using government resources for his political campaign. If he wants to be a lawmaker, he should first follow the law.

* * *

A financial mess at the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been exposed. According to state auditors, the Board of Claims of the DOJ has been illegally using the victims compensation fund of the DOJ for honoraria and office expenses. The fund is earmarked for the compensation of victims of unjust imprisonment and victims of violent crimes. So far, the amount misused has reached P136 million.

As the head of the Department of Justice, Secretary Leila De Lima must have been aware of this irregularity. Why De Lima allowed this to happen is an irregularity in itself. Graft charges should be filed against her and other DOJ officials involved in this anomaly.  

This mess attests that Secretary Leila de Lima has not been diligently attending to her duties at the DOJ. Many lawyers complain of the long delay in the resolution of cases pending there. Applications for the witness protection program take an eternity to be processed. It took De Lima several years to discover that high profile prisoners at the national penitentiary were enjoying amenities and luxuries in violation of law.

What was Secretary De Lima doing all the while? Like MMDA Chairman Tolentino, De Lima is eyeing a seat in the Senate, and she is occupied with her campaign plans.

It will be recalled that Secretary De Lima was among the many government officials who went to the Netherlands last July to attend the hearing on the arbitration case which the Philippines filed against Communist China regarding Beijing’s illegal activities in the West Philippine Sea. De Lima’s presence at the hearing was unnecessary—the Department of Justice is not involved in the international diplomatic row. Moreover, De Lima’s legal expertise is in election law, not international law.     

So far, Secretary De Lima and other tag-along officials to Holland—like House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr., Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra, and deputy presidential spokesman Abigail Valte—have not satisfactorily explained their role in the hearing. Obviously, they went on a European junket at government expense.

* * *

 It seems that Executive Secretary Ochoa does not have a high regard for the late Manuel Luis Quezon, the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth.

At the formal ceremony marking the 137th birth anniversary of President Quezon held at the Quezon Memorial Shrine last August 19, Ochoa was with President Aquino, Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, House Speaker Belmonte, Israeli Ambassador Effie Ben Matityau, and Mrs. Zenaida Quezon-Avanceña. Everyone was in formal attire appropriate for the occasion—except Ochoa who was in a white short-sleeved shirt. If Ochoa wasn’t in the mood to honor Quezon, he should not have attended the ceremony.

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